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The Purpose of PISA

This week, we will learn the 2012 results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), taken by 15 year-old students from all over the world. If 2009 is any judge, no one really expects the United States to catapult to the top of the list of participating countries, but 2012 results are guaranteed to indicate how much work we have to do in improving education.

In 2009, US students scored only in the “average” category in reading, below countries like Finland, Canada, Japan, Poland and Iceland. Thirty-one jurisdictions outperformed the U.S in mathematics.

But before examining 2012 scores, it’s important to know why PISA was created in the first place. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group that administers PISA, test results are intended to show where countries stand, and motivate policymakers to identify shortcomings and remedy them with proper reforms.

The central finding based on PISA has been that students around the world, regardless of economic situation or cultural background, have the potential to learn when given the opportunity.

This coincides seamlessly with the need to create environments where parents are given access and options to schools, and to ensure schools are accountable to boosting student outcomes. When children are placed in the environment that’s right for them, their ability to learn and prepare themselves for the world beyond secondary education increases exponentially. (Which is why it’s critical for parents to know what options are available to them, and why we’ve created the Parent Power Index.)

What good is the fixation on how the United States stacks up against other countries if it’s not followed up by introspection and action?

This year, it’s paramount that policymakers, members of the media, and legislators identify the challenges facing our education system, and enact

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Excel Academy Visit

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit an exceptional school with exceptional students. Excel Academy is the first all-girls charter school in DC, opening its doors in 2008 by a tenacious CEO and founder by the name of Kaye Savage. I was lucky enough to sit down with Savage and hear her reasoning behind the drive for wanting to start a charter school, why in this particular area and why make it an all-girls school.

I have heard of single-sex schools but have never experienced them in my area growing up so it was compelling to walk in the doors of an elementary school and have the only male presence be some of the teachers and administrators. At first, I found it difficult to see how a separation of sexes could allow the girls to achieve higher standards than if they were to attend a school with boys but my position was changed by the time the visit was over. The gains the school has achieved over their six years in operation just goes to show how a single-sex school can be just as effective for its students as a multi-gendered school, if not more effective.

It was amazing to hear Savage speak of her passion for wanting to give young girls the focus they need to learn that they would not generally get in a traditional school that serves both boys and girls. Savage mentioned that to start a charter school, and especially an all-girls charter school, “you really do have to be crazy”. Even though I would like to work in the immense world of K12 education as a career, I could not begin to comprehend what the process of starting a charter school would

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Hooray for Hoxby!

Congratulations to the brilliant Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University, who this week received praise from Smithsonian Magazine for her indispensable research in making college more accessible to underserved students.

Hoxby’s intensive, nationwide project compiled and cross-referenced data in an effort to find the high-performing students who for a multitude of reasons, probably would not even have considered applying to an Ivy League school.

The numbers they uncovered were shocking. They found approximately 35,000 low-income kids with scores and grades in the top 10 percentile, and discovered that more than 80 percent of them didn’t apply to a single selective institution.

Thanks to Hoxby’s efforts, those overachieving students now receive a surprise packet from The College Board, informing them that the best schools in the country welcome their application.

“It can take a generation to make a fundamental change like this,” William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s director of admissions, told Smithsonian. “What Caroline has done will leapfrog us ahead.”

The contributions of Dr. Caroline Hoxby to education research cannot be overstated.  An authority in every sense of the word, Hoxby’s research spans from charter school performance in places like New York City to the effects of education on economic growth.

Hoxby is also a staunch critic of Stanford’s CREDO studies, which employ ineffective research methods but unfortunately still have high standing in the news media and pundit class.

Now, high schools and colleges across the country are reaping the benefits of Hoxby’s latest project, which is guaranteed to create much-needed opportunities for students whose hard work will get well-deserved recognition.


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